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You can tell we are approaching the end of the liturgical year: the Gospel readings start to get a little dark, as Jesus what it will be like “in the days of the Son of Man. In today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus tells his disciples:

On that day, someone who is on the housetop
and whose belongings are in the house
must not go down to get them,
and likewise one in the field
must not return to what was left behind….
[O]n that night there will be two people in one bed;
one will be taken, the other left.
And there will be two women grinding meal together;
one will be taken, the other left.

Not a very comforting vision, is it?

As I’ve shared before, I’m never quite sure of what to do with these end time readings. Clearly the world will end sometime, but it is, of course, impossible for any of us to predict when that will be. In a section in Luke not far removed from today’s Gospel, Jesus is pretty emphatic about that – telling his disciples that many will be say the time has come, but that it will not be so.

We may not have any idea when the world will end, but we do have a choice about how we spend however much time is remaining. It is our choice to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world or to simply shrug and say it doesn’t matter because the world will end one of these days. Only one of those choices seems to me to be open to those who call themselves Christ’s disciples.

Almost immediately upon his election as Pope Francis, accusations and speculation arose about the role Jorge Mario Bergoglio played during the 1976-1983 “Dirty War” in Argentina. For those too young to remember, in 1976 a military junta overthrew the Argentine government and seized control, initiating a period of officially-sanctioned terrorism during which thousands of people “disappeared,” most of whom were tortured and many of whom were killed. Some charged that Bergoglio was complicit in the dirty war; others complained that he did not publicly denounce what was going on.

Those accusations and speculations prompted international reporter and legal journalist Nello Scavo to begin an investigation of his own. The result of his investigation is his book, Bergoglio’s List. Originally published only in Italian, the book has recently been translated into English, and I was sent an copy for review by Saint Benedict’s Press.

The subtitle of the book – How a Young Francis Defied a Dictatorship and Saved Dozens of Lives dispenses with any suspense about the result of Scavo’s investigation. He found “documents and testimony that excluded any complicity with the regime; on the contrary, they clearly demonstrate how [Bergoglio] helped those who were persecuted by the junta.” His actions directly and indirectly saved many. Scavo’s further investigations led him to a number of people who, albeit reluctantly, shared their stories about how “Father Jorge” saved their lives. A number of those stories are told in the book.

The individual stories are powerful and the descriptions of this period in Argentina’s history horrific. But I also appreciated the pictures of the younger version of this Pope revealed by those who spoke to Scavo. Some reveal his sense of humor: Fr. Jorge, several years after protecting three seminarians, came for their ordination and led them in the spiritual exercises. On a terribly hot day, when the three decided to jump into the river to cool off, Bergoglio put on his swim suit, got into the water and gave them the retreat in the stream.

Others reveal his deep commitment to the poor. One person shared a memory of a time

Jorge came into my hovel made of sheet metal and earthen floor. He stopped in for a few days for spiritual retreat. During those moments, you could tell he was not the type of person to just chat about theology cooling off with a fan. He was a man with a mission. He listened to the poor and watched them in their misery and their impulses. He immersed himself in their world and in their suffering. He went down into the depths of their hearts in order to then take them back up with his message of hope.

Doubtless the book will not put to rest the suspicions of some. But given the breadth of sources upon which Scavo’s book is based, it is hard to come away from reading it without an admiration for the courage and stamina shown by Bergoglio during this difficult period.

Creation and Fall

Yesterday was the first of a four-session pre-Advent scripture study/prayer I am offering at Our Lady or Lourdes in Minneapolis. The series, titled from Creation to Annunciation is designed to help us prepare for our Christmas celebration of the coming of Christ.

As I observed at the outset of my talk today, the different Gospels begin the story of Jesus in different places. John and Mark begin with the preaching of John the Baptist. Luke begins with the foretelling of the Baptist’s birth. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, a genealogy that he begins with Abraham. But to understand the full story of Jesus Christ, we have to go back even further – to the story of creation.

Thus, today’s focus was on creation and fall. I began by talking about the Genesis account of creation – and what it reveals about God’s plan. I then spoke about how we might think about the entry of sin into the world. From there I moved on to God’s response to sin – the decision to incarnate.

Following a question and answer period, I described the handout for the series (which I will try to post later this week in an update to this post) and made suggestions for the participants prayer during the week. I then led the group in a guided meditation on creation, after which we had some small group sharing. It was a wonderful start to the series.

You can access a recording of the first part of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 25:33.) My apologies for the technical error on my part that prevented my recording the part of the session that continued after the brief question and answer session.

In today’s Gospel reading from St. John, Jesus finds “in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there.”  He angrily drives them from the temple area and it must have been something to behold: Jesus overturning tables, spilling their coins, whacking at things with a whip made of cord.  And he tells reprimands them, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

I’ve shared before that when I imagine the temple as Jesus walked into it, I see note only people buying and selling and money changing, but also  people cheating each other or haggling excessively over prices. People socializing and carrying on other business. People off in corners gambling, eating, drinking, and probably engaging in a lot of other activities that don’t seem very temple-like. What Jesus saw were people who had lost their focus, forgot the purpose for which they were there, a people whose focus ceased to be on God. I think that is what Jesus is reacting to when he laments what they have done to the temple, his father’s house.

But there is more than that going on. When asked for a sign, Jesus says to them “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  Literally, that made no sense; as the people observe, it took 46 years to build that temple.  How could Jesus rebuild it in three days?  John goes on to clarify that Jesus “was speaking about the temple of his Body.”

John states explicitly what is implicit in Jesus’ words:  There is now a new temple, a new place of God’s dwelling, and that temple is Jesus. Jesus’ own body replaces the physical temple as God’s dwelling. Jesus is where we go to worship, Jesus is where we go for solace, Jesus is the source of our salvation. Once the Word becomes flesh, Jesus is the the focal point; it is through Him that we are saved.

This passage invites us to think about how we approach the temple that is Jesus. Do approach Jesus so wrapped up in the world, so completely distracted by our worldly affairs – with what we are buying or selling or getting or not getting, that we cannot hear Him when He speaks to us? Do we approach with a grudge against our brother or our sister, so that our focus is on our own wounds and the injury done to us by another, unable to truly believe in the love our God has for us? Or do we approach with hearts full of love and joy to be in God’s presence?

The image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” (as my shepherd) has been much on my mind of late, and so I smiled when I read today’s Gospel from Luke, which begins with the parable of the shepherd who loses one of his hundred sheep and leaves the other ninety-nine to go in search of the lost one.  “And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.'”

You have to figure that no shepherd in his right mind would ever leave ninety-nine sheep by themselves to go search for one lost one.  No shepherd would risk the safety of ninety-nine sheep for the sake of one.

You can bet the parable caught the attention of Jesus’ audience, which likely included a shepherd or two.  Perhaps they shook their heads in amazement.  But the moral Jesus draws from the story is one that has to be as meaningful for us as it was for that audience: “I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

And, let’s face it, we are all sinners in one way or another – and perhaps even two or three ways.  So, for me, the image of Jesus constantly searching, constantly looking for ways to draw us nearer, is quote a consoling one.

 

 

Saints and saints

Today I gave a Mid-Day Reflection at UST Law School titled Saints and saints. I picked the topic of the saints for this weeks program because November was the feast of All Saints in the Catholic Church. The capital and small “s” in the title reflects that our models and sources of inspiration can include both individuals formally canonized by the Church and people not so recognized but who have lived lives of great holiness.

I began my talk by sharing on what it means to call someone a saint and, more importantly why I think reflecting on the saints is beneficial for us. I then shared about some of the saints (capital and small “s”) who have particular significance for me.

After my talk, I gave the participants time for individual reflection, asking them to call to mind particular saints that have meaning to them and consider what it is about those persons that inspire them. Following the silent reflection period, people shared some of the saints that inspired them – the range of which itself was quite inspiring.

I ended by encouraging the participants to spend some more time this week reflecting on the individuals they identified, asking themselves what their growing edges are. What are their challenges in developing some of the virtues they admire in their saints.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 20:08.) A copy of the reflection handout I distributed, which is mentioned near the end of the podcast, is here.

This afternoon at the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies, I attended a double session titled Heartfulness as Mindfulness: Affectivity and Perspective in Abrahamic and Dharmic Traditions. The presenters spoke from several different faith traditions.

One of the things so refreshing about this panel was precisely that the speakers spoke from within their faith traditions. A large part of the Contemplative Studies movement is secular in its orientation. Practices are borrowed, largely from the Buddhist tradition, but removed from their Buddhist context. They are presented as individual practices for individual goals: to reduce stress, improve health and so forth.

Part of the thrust of the panel was to suggest that contemplative practices from the Buddhist and other traditions are not disconnected from values; they are communal – in the sense of being in the service of loving encounter. The speakers suggested that much is lost in divorcing the practices from their moorings.

I tend to agree. This panel, combined with the comments yesterday of the Dalai Lama, helped me understand my hesitance about the contemplative studies movement. Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather people engage in (secular) mindfulness practice than no practice at all. But I’m uncomfortable about limiting something with such great potential to an atomistic individual-centered activity. And I wonder at how effective practices removed from their context can be in fostering compassion (as opposed to improved memory, productivity, reduced stress, etc.).

[PS: for those who receive my postings by e-mail, sorry if you got an earlier incomplete version of this. I intended to hit “save” and I hit “publish” instead.]

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